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America’s Heart Has Room For Syrian Refugees — The Pilgrims Taught Us How

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America’s Heart Has Room For Syrian Refugees — The Pilgrims Taught Us How


As we celebrate the Thanksgiving pilgrims, it’s time to set a place at the table for Syrian refugees, America — of thee I sing. Opening doors to newcomers is what we do.

President Obama fervently wants to do something, however small, for shepherding refugees pouring out of Syria. He proposes taking in 10,000, a modest goal, less than the number announced by other Western democracies, even France. He should explain the vetting process to lawmakers worried a terrorist may slip through the cracks. But, we are three hundred million strong, people!

The Friday night ISIS attacks on Paris this month got the world’s attention, but ISIS rose up in the desert vacuum of power in Iraq and Syria in recent years. We must “give thanks” to George W. Bush for that, for starting senseless wars on false grounds.

Newly relevant to the national narrative, the ship of pilgrims are on the first page of the big story we tell ourselves. Landing in an unknown wilderness after a fearsome journey, they barely made it through the harsh winter. Many died on the rough ocean crossing, enough to shake your faith before hearing, “Land ho!”

Yes, our ancestors were surely hardy. But there was no one to keep them out. No wall of hate. No sound and fury from Republican governors and members of Congress balking at the president’s plans for their arrival, barking in the dark they might be terrorists. No Alabama politician warning them not to come to the “Yew-nited States.” That’s no way to treat sojourners seeking shelter, sir.

The takeaway from the Mayflower pilgrim story is that the American Indians, willing to make peace, befriended them and helped them plant crops and build shelter in the New World. The first Thanksgiving was in large part to give thanks to them for a providential passage to establishing their small society. The pilgrim settlement became a cornerstone of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a civilization composed of English Puritans. Without Squanto in particular, a member of the Patuxet tribe, the pilgrims probably would have perished.

Imagine your home, street and country suddenly turned into utter shambles by forces you may hate but cannot control. Imagine ISIS coming to your front door to recruit your son and seize your daughter. The cruel civil war in Syria is between a brutal dictator, Bashar Hafez al-Assad, and a terrorist Islamic “state” that aims to create the old days of a caliphate. It’s an awful Hobson’s (or Hobbesian) choice.

This is the choice: Imagine your family leaving with the things you can carry. That’s pretty much what the pilgrims did, leaving England, the king’s men and everything they knew behind. That’s pretty much what the immigrants who disembarked on Ellis Island did. Of course, many were Jews fleeing the Russian tsar’s pogroms. They were glad to be gone, but knew not what their days in America held. Their most valuable belongings were hopes, dreams and a willingness to work very hard for their family’s future.

About a century ago, New York (and other cities like Baltimore, a waterfront port) took in millions of immigrants from the Old World, according to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

I once visited a refugee camp in Germany, meeting people from tent to tent as we walked. I have seldom been so struck by the strength of the human spirit. The conditions seemed miserable to me, but living on coffee and hope seemed enough to buoy them, looking forward.

Then there’s always the “We leave tonight” story. I was married to a man whose grandfather was a lawyer in Prague, Czech Republic — a Jewish lawyer, I might add. On the eve of the Nazi invasion, he came home and announced to his wife and two small sons, “We leave tonight. There is no time to argue. Get the children ready. Don’t tell anyone, not even your mother.”

They left with a few keepsake of Rosenthal glass. For the rest of her life, the wife always regretted not saying good bye to her family, who lived nearby. “Praha” was always on her mind in London, where they landed. The rest of her family made it to Auschwitz.

The American table has room for 10,000 refugees from Syria this Thanksgiving. It’s who we are.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit Creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2015 CREATORS.COM

Photo: ‘Refugees Welcome’ is seen painted on a building in a blighted area near downtown Detroit, Michigan November 17, 2015. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook



  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 27, 2015

    Although many Americans see the wisdom and have the compassion of opening the doors of America to the refugees from Syria, a certain government official I exchanged messages with recently shows that too many would rather have the theme of “Protect Our Borders” as the guiding principle of whether to accept Syrians and instead would prefer to have “The Constitution” in a literalist sense be the principle guide, rather than have the counsels in the Bible take priority in guiding policy.

    Which points out the disturbing trend in America in which paranoia, bigotry, and an isolationist view of the world are the new “virtues” of today, and real virtues such as love for all of humanity, compassion, generosity, empathy are seen as irrelevant (except in the case for those who are part of one’s exclusive circle–a circle based on the concept of “limited unity” which can only lead to limited results).

    1. itsfun November 27, 2015

      You are seeing the world as you would like it to be, not as it is.

      1. Independent1 November 27, 2015

        Wow!! That comment coming from someone with their head so far in the sand they can’t even see the light of day!!

  2. yabbed November 27, 2015

    Council for Christian Churches came out in favor of accepting the Syrian refugees. Americans but for the racists and nativists approve of accepting the Syrian refugees. I’m tired of having the bigots represent this country. They are not us.

  3. itsfun November 27, 2015

    In todays world, with Muslims promising to kill all infidels, we can’t just open the borders to potential terrorists. Remember the Boston Marathon, 9/11, Paris.

    1. Independent1 November 27, 2015

      Why is it that you right-wingers just love to spread fear and hatred at every opportunity?? Any Syrians accepted for entrance to our country would have had to apply 2-3 years ago – and waited that long to be vetted – hardly something a would be terrorist would do; they’re too much opportunists like you: they’re just itching for the chance to spread death as you are to spread fear and hate. Of the 7,000+ Syrians who have applied since 2011, only about 2,000 passed the vetting – and none of those has been involved with our law enforcement.

      1. BillP November 27, 2015

        You are totally correct. Last Sunday’s NY Times had an article about the vetting process. It’s 20’steps long and will take 18 – 24 months to get through. It’s not the way terrorists are going to try to enter the U.S. They would more likely try the visa process, it’s easier and quicker.

    2. greenlantern1 November 27, 2015

      Remember a “Christian” murderess named Karla Faye Tucker?
      Remember police officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo?
      They were gunned down by Jerad Miller and Amanda Miller!
      Their gang leader was Clyven Bundy!
      Remember him?
      Remember when G Gordon Liddy called for “headshots” to murder policemen?

    3. Polana November 27, 2015

      American killed by ISIS – 4
      Americans killed by falling furniture/TV -17
      Americans killed by Americans with guns 30,638 and counting, as I write this we have a shooting in Colorado Springs – NOT ISIS.
      I bet – deluded GOP supporter robbing either bank or hates PP business.
      Take your pick.
      9 year old boy was executed for nothing – local gang banger not Muslim, 17 yr was shot 16 times by a white cop and Christian, on Thanksgiving in Chicago we had few more deadly shootings add to the count, still counting.
      Take your pink glasses off and C who is killing who.
      How many murders were committed by family members for their inheritance, Do I need to list all of them?
      No shooting at the NY Parade and all this hype/fear mongering over who????
      Who is coming to dinner??? U R MORON.

    4. Independent1 November 27, 2015

      Polana just posted some good examples for you of why fearing refugees is total nonsense – there are more than enough native-born Americans as equally deadly to fear.

      And on top of that, don’t forget that every month more than 5,000 Americans in about 24 red states that have refused to expand Medicaid die prematurely just because Republicans give higher priority to the already wealthy keeping more money in their already full pockets, rather than MAYBE spending a few buckets a couple years down the road to save hundreds maybe thousands of the lives of the people who may well have voted them into office.

  4. pmbalele November 27, 2015

    The name “Black Friday should be changed to “Green Friday”. Black Friday is racist. It is not only Black people that rush for deals. Whites, Blacks and Asians all rush for deals. I will suggest a Bill in Congress to change “Black Friday” to “Green Friday.”

    1. plc97477 November 27, 2015

      It is called black Friday because it is supposed to be the only day of the year when the business bottom line is not red.

      1. pmbalele November 27, 2015

        They should have chosen “Green” as color- not Black. People think Black Friday is for Blacks seeking deals and that people act like crazy are Blacks. Blacks are not the only ones there. Mostly are Whites.

        1. Independent1 November 27, 2015

          Actually it’s called black Friday because companies usually print the numbers in the income column of their profit and loss statements using black ink (signifying a profit) unless the company is experiencing a loss for the year, when they then switch to using red ink to show that the final number in the income column is a loss rather than a profit.

          Unfortunately, a large number of companies, especially retailers and companies that manufacture goods for them, operate at a loss until the Christmas holiday shopping season, with many of them having to count on the fact that they’ll have enough Christmas related sales starting on the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday), to ensure that the number shown in the income column of their final profit and loss statement at year end, will be black and not red.

          1. Louis Allen November 29, 2015

            Don’t waste your time explaining anything to this idiot.
            He is as dumb as you.

            …. and that’s saying a lot.

      2. Louis Allen November 29, 2015

        Don’t waste your time explaining anything to this idiot.
        He is as dumb as you.
        …. and that’s saying a lot.

  5. greenlantern1 November 27, 2015

    Trump’s TAJ MAHAL has just paid a $10,000,000 fine!
    It let terrorists use it for money laundering!
    Do we have room for THAT?

  6. Phil Christensen November 27, 2015

    …but ISIS rose up in the desert vacuum of power in Iraq and Syria in recent years. A liberal on the verge of making sense, but as usual you couldn’t leave well enough alone. Oh, and this little piece of bigotry: No Alabama politician warning them not to come to the “Yew-nited States.” Nice.


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